In “Ender’s Game,” the movie released November 1 2013 that is based on the classic science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, a future Earth is still reeling from the effects of an alien invasion that occurred 50 years before. As far of the effort to take the war to the enemy and make certain Earth is never imperiled again, the International Military has instituted a program to build not just child soldiers, but child generals, forging instruments of war from human flesh and minds from the very young. Not even the Spartans dared so much.
Ender Wiggin is the most promising prospect. Physically he is a stereotypical 90 pound weakling. But he has a number of traits that make him a natural to become a great commander. He can analyze any situation almost instantly and devise a solution to prevail. And he can make other people follow him willingly.
Asa Butterfield is a brilliant young actor who manages to convey just the right balance of vulnerability and ruthlessness of a kid whose childhood has been stripped from him for the greater good, who’s every waking moment is a test, from official simulated combats to social interactions contrived by the adults. The problem is to forge a new Caesar or Napoleon, but allow him to retain just the right amount of humanity to make his subordinates obey him willingly. As it turns out, they do their work only too well.
Harrison Ford, in his best science fiction role since “Bladerunner,” plays Colonel Graff with a craggy authority and a will to stop at nothing to make Ender the savior of humanity, regardless of cost. Viola Davis is Major Anderson, apparently the military psychologist who mentions at some point that she will be tasked with putting the child commanders back together when the war is over. Other actors of note are Abigail Breslin who plays Ender’s sister Valentine, judged to be too compassionate to be the commander of humanity’s forces, Hailee Steinfeld as Petra, Ender’s best friend in the battle and command schools, and Ben Kinsley, who plays Mazer Rackman, whose strategy saved humanity the first time.
A slight spoiler ahead.
Anyone who has read the book knows about the big reveal at the end and the shocking thing that Ender is made to do in order to prevail in the alien war. Suffice to say that victory comes at a terrible prize for a boy who is yet too young to shave, who has not yet kissed a girl, and who now has to find a purpose for the rest of his life that will redeem him for that one awful act that saved the human race, but at the cost of making him a greater killer than any in a race of great killers. As Ender says at the end, he must see if he can be as great at peace as he had been at war.
The resulting movie is powerful and thought provoking, a cut above the average space war adventure.